It pains me when I see smart, qualified, capable women kill their professional credibility by communicating in a way that doesn’t align with their expertise.
Mastering effective written and verbal communication in the workplace is a must.
Knowing and avoiding major communication pitfalls can be one of the simplest steps to make a big career difference. Here’s what you need to stop doing now.
So, unfortunately, let’s just, like, honestly talk about something that’s seriously a real problem for professionals.
Read that sentence out loud and you’ll hear the filler words, verbal crutches that diminish anything important you are trying to say whether that is in a meeting, in an email or on stage. Zero-calorie words make it longer to get to the point, distract from what’s important and do more harm than good, implying inexperience and hurting credibility.
Your job is to convey your points in a succinct, confident manner that demands attention.
Please save the word unfortunately for natural disasters or when the information you’re conveying is literally unfortunate. If something is actually or honestly true, just say it’s true. Resist the urge to start a sentence with so and get to it. It’s OK to pause mid sentence and form your next words. Silence can feel (and sound) scary, but embracing comfort in a pause echoes louder than your likes. With practice, you’ll leave the fillers behind. One of my early career wins was secured because the hiring manager was so impressed with how I didn’t use um during our conversation.
The only thing that makes me sorry is when women use “I’m sorry” when there is nothing to apologize for. I cringe when I hear women apologize on calls if they were late to join, or when a client reacted negatively to news; or responding to an email about a project mishap. All understandable situations, but they weren’t exactly sorry material.
I’m all about radical responsibility so if there is a time to be sorry or to be sorry on behalf of a company error, sure, say it, but don’t say it if you aren’t. Apologizing when you are not at fault can make women seem insecure, or unsure of what to say, or over-concerned about being liked by others. Over-apologizing gives off vibes that you’re submissive and weak, rather instead of confident and strong. Plus, if you’re saying it all the time, how do others know when you really mean it? If you regret doing something and feel remorse, that calls for an apology. Late to a meeting or didn’t turn in your best work? That’s also an appropriate time to say sorry.
For everything else, there are a few tricks you can start using. One way to stop apologizing if you aren’t responsible is validate how the other person is feeling. And “Thank you for being patient. I’ve had had a busy week.” sounds a lot better than “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.”
When we talk about career communication pitfalls, being unprepared is one of the big missteps you can make. This is career time, not college, so you can’t always wing it in every meeting, or especially when you’re speaking to an audience. And yes, I’m talking to you, people who read verbatim off their PowerPoint slides. (Tsk tsk.) If you have an idea to launch a new campaign, research it and share your findings and why you think it’s a good idea.
Focusing on preparation tells your audience that you value their time and care about the material you are sharing. This doesn’t mean hours of practicing and memorizing your words, but go into any situation knowing what you want to say. If it helps, jot down some high-level notes or bullet points that you can look at it to trigger what you plan to cover. And if you get into a subject and forget what you’re going to cover, take a breath and fake it until you catch your next thought. Do it confidently and no one will be the wiser.
This use of certain vocal inflections stands out in a bad way. The most empowered, confident person on a call or in the room doesn’t come across that way if they’re speaking as if everything they say sounds like a question (aka uptalk).
There are linguistic differences in the way each of us communicates, and I’m not here to normalize women’s vocal patterns or shy away from inclusion. But, you should feel comfortable to say what you need to without needing a voice. Speaking in a non-intelligible way comes across as insecure and can impede your trustworthiness.
From checking in with clients to building new relationships and business, to educating clients in presentations, communication is key. And silence is death when it comes to career management. If you are working on a project, send detailed emails and put everything in writing to keep team members updated and spare the “what is happening with ___?” types of follow ups.
Too many women feel like they are being “pests” or “bugging” management by speaking up, when in fact, it’s the squeaky wheels that get the career grease. Silence can be a killer — a lack of communication can make or break relationships, hurt your bottom line, leave clients unhappy or teams confused.
Quick netiquette point - a written communication pitfall I see all the time is not knowing when to 'Reply All'. You want to 'Reply All' in instances when you and your colleagues are on an email chain and you need to share information to keep the larger group in the know about updates.
You don’t want to leave people on a project out of the loop when information is shared. Oh, the times I can count waiting for a client to share their feedback on an email chain with my team. To me, it looked like they dropped the ball when in fact, they replied directly to my colleague who was in meetings most of the day and things got dropped.
Where Reply All doesn’t work is if two people can’t resolve an issue within a reply or two. Too often, a small group of coworkers will causally reply all and start a conversation that can spiral into 50+ emails the rest of us aren’t here for.
If you’re on an email thread and need to do some backend strategizing with someone that will take some back and forth, Reply works best.
Now that you know where not to walk, it’s time to talk the talk and incorporate this information into your repertoire. Start refining your speaking proficiencies by saving your sorries. Swap out the filler words for the good stuff, and soothe your vocal fry.
And speaking of confidence, know that being nervous is NORMAL and in fact, it actually boosts communication if you understand the psychology of it!
If you’ve never driven a car with a stick shift, there’s a sweet spot of easing off the brake while pressing the gas at the same time that keeps you from stalling out. Similarly, when stress levels are elevated when stepping outside your comfort zone, it’s called optimal anxiety—and it’s your sweet spot to master when communicating.
Those little butterflies aren’t bad! It a feeling that shows you care, and that you’re there to put your audience at ease. And, the more you experience this feeling, the more you can use this heightened state to your advantage.
What you don’t want to happen is go too fast or let the excitement throw you off your game, or succumb to a nervous feeling.
Own the content and your role in the workplace. You are there for a reason. Speak with confidence and you’ll command the attention and respect that you deserve.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Lorrie Thomas Ross is a marketing optimization expert, coach, speaker and CEO of Web Marketing Therapy Inc., marketing optimization, training and management firm and Wild Web Women, coaching, masterminds and conferences to help women in web and social media businesses grow gorgeously. She loves helping leaders lead themselves...unapologetically.
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